Pascagoula Teen Named One Of America's Top Ten Youth Volunteers

A senior at Pascagoula High School has been named one of America's top ten youth volunteers.

Ajay Mangal was among those honored Monday in a ceremony Monday at the International Trade Center in Washington. Mangal received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award for his volunteerism following Katrina.

Although he lost his home in the storm, Mangal immediately called upon classmates whose homes had been spared to meet at the local fairgrounds and use their knowledge of the town to assist the National Guard in distributing bottled water, meals, ice, and hygienic items to hundreds of survivors.

After enough out-of-town volunteers arrived to continue the relief effort, Mangal worked alongside several out-of-state church groups to clean out the devastated homes of 20 families, ripping out walls and floors, fixtures, appliances, furniture and everything else contaminated by saltwater and mold.

At the same time, Mangal made a point of providing comforting reassurances to the homeowners that everything would eventually be okay.

When his school reopened, Mangal organized groups of students to assist teachers and other personnel who needed help in recovering from the storm.

After he recounted his experiences to friends in other states, they responded by helping to raise more than $35,000 for Katrina victims.

"Everything that we continue to do will just definitely benefit future generations and many people to come," Mangal said at Monday's ceremony.

Another Mississippi youth, 11-year-old Claire McInnis of McComb was also honored. The 6th grade home-schooled student, conducted a drive in her community that collected more than 2,000 items for babies on the Mississippi Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.

Included in her supply boxes were more than 300 jars of baby food, 65 cans of formula and juice, 80 packs of diapers. Claire also helped cook food for a Red Cross shelter at her church after the storm.

Mangal and McInnis both received a $5,000 grant to the charity of their choice.